Wednesday, November 30, 2005

And here I thought One No-Trump Doubled was a bad contract

One way to view the MLB "Free Agent Tracker" is to do so by sorting it by date signed, which is almost like reading a web-based email inbox with the newest emails first. You get the From, To, Subject, and Date fields, but you still have to click the subject link to find out what's really going on. Also, this is only your inbox for signings -- your full inbox of offseason roster moves is elsewhere, but not as neatly organized.

I do sort of wish they'd put the actual contract numbers up on the main hot stove season page, though, so you could just see at a glance how ridiculous it is.

Last season, I remember thinking Troy Percival's 2yr/$12m contract wasn't so ridiculous at the time -- he was a good, proven closer, and I used to really like the Angels bullpen for some reason, although Shields-Donnelly-Percival was just a formidable set for a while there. Thing is, Dave of USSM pointed out that "I’m rarely in favor of paying $6 million for any reliever. I think if you’re going to spend that much on a guy who is only going to throw 60 innings, you better be certain they’re going to be 60 awesome innings..." "...he was paid for the closer label, and in my mind, that’s always a bad idea."

Well, that sure made me think about it, and in time, I got what he was saying there.

Here we are, a year later, and not even counting injuries, Percival's contract almost looks reasonable now. B.J.Ryan for 5/47? BILLY WAGNER FOR 4/43? Are these people insane? I mean, I'm glad the Phillies weren't nuts enough to pay that much for Billy, but at the same time, I'm annoyed to see him go to a division rival.

Then again, dude, this is the Mets. I'm beginning to think the Mets want me to hate them or something. First I have to see Billy in a Mets Uniform dissing the Phillies, then going back I see Carlos Delgado in a Mets uniform, talking about the damage he expects to do with his friends "Mr. Floyd, Mr. Beltran, and Mr. Wright", and then the Mets bought Tike Redman from the Pirates? Hmm.

On the other hand, Aaron Rowand looks good in a Phillies uniform. I'm still out on the other Abraham Nunez though; not sure what to think of that one. It'd be funny if someday the NL Abraham Nunez could end up in the same game as the Abraham Nunez who currently plays for the Rainiers, wouldn't it?

Anyway, contracts this year are ridiculous, although I actually have to give huge kudos to the Pirates for signing Jason Bay for a 4 year, $18 million contract extension. That's probably going to be the best contract of the offseason, honestly. Also, the Pirates seem to have some pretty good new kids coming up, which is kind of exciting -- I went down to PNC Park finally yesterday (they left the right field gate open, so I walked around behind the outfield stands area. That was kind of cool), and picked up some back issues of the Pirates magazines so I could read the interviews and articles about Bay, and Zach Duke, Brad Eldred, Ryan Doumit, Ian Snell, Chris Duffy, etc. I still don't expect the Pirates to contend next year, of course, but I'm sort of excited about coming back here and seeing some of those guys play.

On the other hand, if you want any Pirates t-shirts at all, you better be a large beer-guzzling yinzer, because everything there is pretty much only available in size 2XL, except for a plethora of reduced-price Matt Lawton shirts.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Book Review: You Can't Lose 'Em All

I'm still having fun in Pittsburgh. My friend's roomate actually HAS the Steve Blass / Manny Sanguillen double bobblehead from this summer. It's so funnylooking. Manny has a catcher's mitt on his head, so if you shake the desk, Steve Blass's head bobbles all around, but Manny just nods. Hee. I'll take a picture at some point. I haven't made it down to PNC Park yet this trip. I'm disappointed to find out that they only do stadium tours from April to October; I'd never looked into going on an official tour there since I've been around most of the park during games. Maybe when I'm back here in April...

Anyway, the news tidbit of the day to me is that the Yomiuri Giants signed Kiyoshi Toyoda, the Seibu Lions' closer, who was a free agent this offseason. Cool. I know, I'm mean, but this just means more of an equalizer in the Pacific League.

So, I read this book when I was still jet-lagged the last few days. It was pretty

You Can't Lose 'Em All : The Year the Phillies Finally Won the World Series by Frank Fitzpatrick

First off, the neatest piece of trivia I never knew before and learned from this book: in all of Pete Rose's 24 seasons, 3562 games, 4256 hits, and 160 home runs, he only ever hit one grand slam in his career, July 18, 1964, off of Dallas Green, who managed the 1980 Phillies and who was a pitcher for the Phillies during that fateful 1964 season. Apparently, 15 years later, Pete Rose still teased him about it. (Though the book actually has the date wrong -- they say July 19, and I checked it on Retrosheet and Baseball-Almanac. I'm sure there's no way in hell most people would notice or catch that, unless they also were like "Whoa, no way! What a crazy coincidence!" when they read it. I assume the author probably found a July 19th newspaper clipping or something.)

Anyway, if you grew up in Philadelphia and were too young to really appreciate 1980 when it happened, as I was, but went to way too many Phillies games in your youth anyway, as I did, this book is really pretty great. I mean, I remember some of the guys clearly -- Schmidt, Carlton, Rose, Tugger, Bowa, Boonie, etc -- but a lot of the other names are really pretty fuzzy to me, aside from my 1980 Phillies felt pennant. So this is the story of all those guys.

It's sort of the story of everything leading up to the events of October 21, 1980, starting with an explanation of the doomedness of the franchise in general --

Let's say you were a Philadelphian born in the first decade of the twentieth century. You loved baseball, preferred the National League, and by 1917 had become a Phillies fan. Well, by 1948, assuming you hadn't been hospitalized or switched allegiances, you would still be waiting. Waiting not just for a World Series, not just for a pennant, not even for a near miss. Thirty-one years after you gave your heart to the Phillies, you would not yet have experienced a single winning season!

(Sadly, despite the great way this is phrased, it's actually not strictly true either. The Phillies did have a vaguely winning season in 1932, where they went 78-76 behind Chuck Klein and his 38 home runs. I do love the way he pointed out how in 1930, though, Klein hit .386 with 40 HR, Lefty O'Doul batted .383, the team batting average was .315, and those two plus Pinky Whitney each had over 200 hits. And where did they finish? Dead last, losing 102 games. I thought I'd looked at every embarrassing Phillies year, but I guess not.)

We go through the Phillies' early years, of course pointing out how by 1980 the team had only been in two World Serieses, and had only won one game therein, in 1915. Hell, in winning Game 1 of the 1980 NLCS, Steve Carlton became the first Phillies pitcher since Grover Cleveland Alexander to win a postseason game for the Phillies at home.

Now, most of the story starts in 1964. No, not exactly with them losing the pennant in the spectacular way they did, but with the building of the Phillies farm system, as it were. Paul Owens took over, and he started signing some talented kids. Bowa in 1965. Luzinski in 1968. Boone in 1969. Mike Schmidt in 1971. They managed to trade Rick Wise for Steve Carlton. (Apparently Tim McCarver only got back his catching job with the Phillies in the 70's because Carlton refused to be caught by Boone.) Other pieces fell into place, culminating in the signing of Pete Rose to kick everyone into shape. And suddenly, boom! 1980 Phillies. Then we get the story of the 1980 season, scratching and clawing for the division lead every day, and then the insane NLCS against Houston and the World Series itself, describing most of the crazier stories and plays and players and such. (George Brett, the "Preparation DH". 'Nuff said.)

I really had no idea how crazy the team's relationship with the fans and with the press was at the time, of course -- I could barely read in 1980, and I knew people booed at the stadium a lot -- but this book covers a lot of the crazy media fights between Dallas Green and the team, and the players in-fighting with each other, and whatnot. It's really pretty fascinating for me to read about all the different things that happened, and to bring a lot of the players to life more as characters than just as names on a pennant.

Basically, I guess what I'm trying to say overall about this book is that it's really a pretty entertaining read if you're a Phillies fan. There's a lot of humor in here, of course, and a lot of funny stories about games and all, and various insights from interviews with players and fans and front office folks and everybody. Like I also said, I'm sure there are a few facts in the book that are incorrect -- it's sort of funny that the few points I wanted to bring out as being cool about the book also point out the errors. If you read this, read it for the entertainment factor and the stories and just enjoy it. I did, after all -- if I hadn't decided to review the book, I wouldn't have noticed any flaws!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Friday Foto

Well, I spent the last two days in the middle of nowhere. I guess it was refreshing. It's damn COLD out here, and there's lots of snow -- heck, I got to throw snowballs at my stepfather the other night. Whee!

Now I'm actually in Pittsburgh, with a net connection. I'm catching up on stuff, so in light of the upcoming Thome-Rowand trade, I figured I'd toss up this picture I took of a statue of the Phillie Phanatic, from the second floor of the Phillies Team Store:

At the time, I took this picture because I was joking that he looked like he was doing a Richard Nixon pose. Now, perhaps, I would like to pretend he's stretching his arms out in a wide gesture of "Welcome to Philadelphia, Aaron Rowand! Don't let the boo birds bite."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm getting on a shuttle in about half an hour to go to the airport, after which I'll be in the Pittsburgh area for a week, and then in Florida for a weekend. I get back to Seattle on December 4th.

I expect to put in a few updates while I'm away, but not many. I should be checking the blogs and stuff sporadically either way, but there's a good chance I'm going to be entirely offline until Friday at least.

So, happy Thanksgiving, or something. Celebrate it as you see fit, and I'll see y'all when I get back to civilization; I'll certainly have a few book reviews after sitting on planes and stuff, I'm sure.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Requisite Johjima Post

I've mostly avoided posting about him because I'm not really a rumor person and I figured I could wait until an actual signing happened. But, hey, if it's on, it's good enough for me! If you want to know my opinion on it, I look at this as the Mariners getting a good catcher and the Hawks losing another power hitter, which means next year should be even more interesting in the Pacific League. Will Lotte be able to repeat the feat? Anyway, the thing is, I feel like I keep repeating myself in various blogs because people keep asking the same questions, so I'm just going to say a few things here and then not say them again.

Most of you probably know all of these already, so bear with me.

1) Japanese players use English letters on their jerseys, not any of the Japanese writing systems. The Korean Baseball Organization uses Hangul on their uniforms (as shown here, from the Konami Cup) and the Chinese Professional Baseball League use Kanji on their uniforms (shown here, same). But the Japanese use English letters.

2) While arguing over the spelling of "Johjima" vs. "Jojima" seems silly, I personally always spell it "Johjima" because that's what he has on his uniform. If he chooses to put "Jojima" on his uniform here, I'll start spelling it that way. I promise!


EDIT> It does appear on the Mariners Roster as "Johjima", so there you have it. And we have #2 available for him, of course.

2a) As a side note, I do think it's sort of funny that Akinori Otsuka (大塚) and Tomokazu Ohka (大家) share the same starting kanji in their names, but choose to spell it differently in English, but hey, again, it's subject to different romanization systems, so whatever. (Also, this is not the same "Oh" kanji as in Sadaharu Oh (王).)

3) Whee, projection fun. Jim Albright is pretty good at this stuff, and he did one for Johjima a bit ago here. Of course, he wasn't taking into consideration the idea of him playing in a righty-killer field like Safeco, which is why I'm more pessimistic in my guess in the thread on Lookout Landing -- I said .287/.355/.445, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 30 BB, 65 K. I'm also mostly looking at how Iguchi came over as my basis, since he and Johjima are close in age, played on the same team in the same stadiums against the same pitching over the same time period in Japan, both right-handed batters, put up similar batting/power numbers at that, and are going to be in the same league in the MLB.

4) "The Language Issue".

Now, the main thing is that the fundamental words that he'll need to communicate, like the different pitches, are pretty much the same between Japanese and English. I'm sort of doing stupid romanization here, but you get the idea:

ファストボール - fahsuto-bohru - fastball
ストレート - sutoraito - straight (fastball)
カーブ - kahbu - curve
スライダー - suraidah - slider
スプリッター - supureetah - splitter
フォークボール - fohku-bohru - forkball
シンカー shinkah - sinker
シュート shooto - sinking fastball
ナックルボール nahkuru-bohru - knuckleball

A couple of months ago, I was "watching" a Japanese game online on their version of Gameday (since the CL didn't have any teams doing video webcasts), and I screenshot the Japanese Java app because it was amusingly broken on Hiroki Kokubo's at-bat, but you can see here some of the various pitches I just mentioned:

kokubo at-bat

Of course, sure, there are other issues in communication besides just calling pitches. Like coming out to the mound and just calming down a guy or whatever. But I think Johjima's a smart guy and he'll pick up English as he goes along; they've got interpreters around when it's really really necessary, and of course, there were foreign pitchers that he caught in Japan. (Also, I still love Warren Cromartie's story about calming down Tatsunori Hara by talking about "bokusa doggu"; scroll to bottom) So yeah. I'm not too worried about the communication; I'm worried about him getting up to speed on what pitches to call for people. He's been mostly dealing with the same 5 teams over and over again in Japan, so learning an entirely new set of batters in a new game could be pretty challenging.

But in all honesty, this is new ground, right? We won't know how it works out for real until next season when he's put to the test.

5) Hey, let's all go out and learn Johjima's cheer song! Wheeeee! From here, where you can also get a midi file of it:

凄い若鷹だ どこまでも飛ばす レフト越えフェンス越え スタンドまで飛ばせ
sugoi wakataka da / dokomade mo tobasu / lefto koe / fensu koe / stando made tobase!

This loosely means (with corrections for my sleepy translation), "A great young hawk, hits the ball everywhere! Over left! Over the fence! Into the stands, let it fly!"

Referring to where he usually hits the ball, I suppose. Cheer songs don't always exactly make sense... also, I think it'd probably piss him off if anyone actually sang it here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The 2005 MVP Al-Star Team

Alan Trammell followed Alex Rodriguez into the lounge, looking more than a bit confused as he looked at the group of guys hanging around. "Hey, Alex," he started, "I knew something strange had to be going on when you invited me to your house, but this looks like the weirdest party group I've ever seen."

A-Rod just smiled. "You're here by special invitation for a very special reason, my man." He waved an arm around, at the guys sitting, drinking, playing darts, pool, and poker. "What do these people all have in common?"

Trammell stared. He couldn't think of a single thing that Al Leiter, Albert Pujols, Alex Gonzalez, Alfonso Soriano, Alex Cora, and Alex Sanchez, among others, had in common. "They're all baseball players. Um. They're all baseball players whose names start with A?"

"You're on the right track. Keep going."

"Well, okay, their names all start with A and L. Except Sandy Alomar, what's he doing here?"

"Now you've got it! Everyone here, well, you can call them 'Al'. This is going to be the greatest team ever... it's the 2005 MVP AL STAR TEAM!" He waved Pujols to come over. "See, me and Al here, we realized that it was just too cool that both of the MVP winners were named Al. And so we wanted to come up with a special way to celebrate it."

"So," started Pujols, "We invited all of these other awesome Als here."

"Ha, guys," laughed Trammell, "Then what am I doing here?"

"You, Al Trammell," said Pujols, "are going to be the MANAGER of our awesome Al-Star Team."

Trammell glanced around. "I hate to break it to you, fellows, but most of these guys are shortstops. Who's going to play anywhere else?"

Pujols and A-Rod looked at each other and grinned. "Well, Rod's playing third and I'm playing first," started Pujols.

"Alomar's catching, obviously. We cheated, but the alternative was Alberto Castillo," A-Rod laughed. "As for the rest, well, it's obvious that the awesomest people would be Als and play shortstops, but the way I figure it, I'm the most awesome Al shortstop in the world and I've been playing elsewhere all year, so these guys can suck it up too."

"Alex Sanchez gets center field by default," continued Pujols. "Alfonso Soriano's playing second base, and we're giving Alex Cintron the shortstop job."

Trammell blinked. "Curious choice, men, why not Alex Gonzalez?"

A-Rod smiled. "Well, the problem is... which Alex Gonzalez? It wouldn't be fair to pick one over the other. And while the ALEX GONZALEZ SHORTSTOP DEATH MATCH sounded like a pretty cool pre-game event for our Al-Star Game, we figured it was a better idea to just put them both in the outfield rather than lose them to injury. One plays left, one plays right, we don't really care which."

Trammell seemed to accept this. "How about the bench? I assume Alex Cora is the infielder, Alexis Rios is the backup outfielder?"

Pujols nodded. "Yeah. Castillo's going to be our backup catcher, too. Al Leiter's the starting pitcher."

"You don't have much pitching for this team, actually. Alan Embree and... ah, another cheater, Alfonseca, in the bullpen?"

Pujols shrugged. "I wanted Al Reyes, but well, he's not throwing a ball again any time soon."

A-Rod said, "Well, now that it's all settled, we might as well get the party started, huh?" He clapped his hands loudly a couple of times. "GUYS!" he shouted.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked over at him.

"So, now that we've got our manager in the loop, we're ready to rock, I think. I'm guessing you've all figured out why you're here. Mr. Pujols and I, we could be happy just being the MVP's, sure. But we wanted to share the fun with an entire group. And all of you are what we consider the MLB's MAP's!"

"The Most Al-uable Players. This is going to be the most fun exhibition ever. We are all Als, and we are all stars. This is the greatest Al-star team ever assembled. Here's our proposed lineups," said Pujols, handing out sheets of paper to people.

A-Rod grinned as the papers were passed around. "We're celebrating all sorts of Als. In tribute to one of the earliest baseball Als, Al Spalding, the Spalding sporting goods is providing all sorts of equipment. In tribute to Alexander Cartwright, we're playing the game in New York."

"Oh, and wait until you hear the coolest part," said Pujols. "We contacted several celebrity Als to sing or perform for the pre-game. Weird Al Yankovic said he respectfully didn't think he'd fit in well with our Al-Star team, but he *did* write us a song for the occasion. Hey Rod, strike up the karaoke machine, man, and toss me a mic..."

A-Rod flicked a few switches on the complex media center, and music started blaring from the speakers. Pujols caught the microphone and started singing in a falsetto voice in the intro.

"I won my MVP..." he sang in his best imitation of Sting. The drums pounded. "I won my MVP..."

The rest of the room started nodding their heads to the guitar of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits as the music to "Money For Nothing" played.

Now look at them voters, here's the way you do it
You play the baseball as a stud Yankee
We got the writers, got the big-ass payroll
But money means nothin' to a guy like me.
Now that guy Pujols, playin' on the Cardinals
Lemme tell you, that guy can jam
Maybe'd be his second if not for that Bonds guy
Maybe he's as awesome as I am

I fought to win some mighty great sluggers
Vlad Guererro, and Dave Ortiz
I got to send them back to the dugout
'Cause they ain't this year's MVP's

See that A-Rod with his ribbies and his homers?
Yeah, buddy, he's a nightmare
That crazy slugger's gonna be a hall of famer
That crazy slugger is a zillionaire

I fought to win some mighty great sluggers
Andruw Jones, and Derrek Lee
I got to send them back to the dugout
'Cause they ain't this year's MVP

I shoulda learned to pitch like a star
I shoulda learned to strike out bums
Look at those slackers, they're out there, sitting in the outfield 'pen
Goofing off all day
The call comes, "What's that? Pitch for an inning?"
They're throwin' on the mound for just an out or three
See, that ain't workin', that's the way you do it
Get your money for nothing and your naps for free

We had to beat some mighty great sluggers
But we're the finest as you can see
We got to send them back to the dugout
'Cause they ain't this year's MVP

Now we're the winners, any way you cut it
We worked our butts off for that MVP
We're always out there, lookin' at those bench guys
They get their money for nothing and their naps for free

You get your money for nothin', and your naps for free

Pujols (overlapping):
I won my, I won my, I won my MVP...

Everybody applauded. The music faded out.

"So, um, hey, A," said Alfonso Soriano. "Having an Al-star team is good and all, but who exactly are we going to play against?"

Pujols shrugged. "Well, that isn't exactly clear yet. It's looking like it'll probably be Ryan Howard and the All-Ryan team, though."

"Yeah," agreed A-Rod. "For some reason, Vlad's having issues getting together an All-Vlad team."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

From the home office in Seattle, Washington

Top ten Reasons The Mariners Should Re-sign Jamie Moyer:

10. Moyer magic doesn’t work so well when other pitchers click their heels and say "There’s no place like home"

9. He’s fun to watch. Seeing guys strike out on a whopping 81 mph fastball is just funny.

8. Is the only guy on the staff who can tell Felix, “I’ve been pitching professionally since before you were born!”

7. They’d lose out on the big tear-jerker retirement party a la Edgar, Dan, etc.

6. It would really suck if he continued his crazy winning streak in Safeco… while playing for some other team.

5. "Ancient Mariner" title would fall to Eddie Guardado

4. Moyer banner at front of Safeco Field would have to be replaced with Richie Sexson, which would make Ichiro look even smaller

3. The Mariners would no longer have the novelty of having both the oldest and youngest player in the league

2. Mariners Wives charity organization would have to deal with the crushing loss of both Karen Moyer and Annie Wilson in the same year

1. Mariner Moose would have to find a new roomate

Top Ten Reasons the Phillies should re-sign Billy Wagner:

10. Phillies fans would have to boo someone else for throwing under 100 mph

9. He has a stronger farm system at home in rural Virginia than the entire Phillies minor league organization

8. Since he's really right-handed, he can sign stuff for kids all the time without using his throwing hand

7. Embraces "unlucky" number 13 on his uniform

6. If he doesn't get to play in a World Series soon, he's going to undoubtedly go insane in the bullpen one day and kill someone, which might take care of Rheal Cormier

5. Should the Mets snag him, the Phillies might be tempted to sign Braden Looper, and that would suck

4. Only guy besides Mariano Rivera who can *really* pull off using "Enter Sandman" as his song

3. With Larry Bowa gone, someone's got to shoot off their mouth all the time

2. He was responsible for getting Ezequiel Astacio's ugly mug out of the Phillies system

1. Alpacas are really, really cute

Friday, November 18, 2005

Friday Foto

Wherein I feature yet another baseball picture I took that I could never find a good context for, but which is burning a hole on my hard drive and yearns to see the world. This one is from the September 13th Angels-Mariners game.

a mppse once bit my sister.

I'm happily taking suggestions for captions, as the best one I could come up with was "The Mariner Moose goes through the stands scouting for possible first-round picks in the June 2023 draft."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

That Ichiro article

So, if you aren't living on another planet, or apparently even if you are, you're probably aware that Ichiro vented his spleen to some Japanese press recently about how he's a little unhappy with how much the Mariners sucked this year. Sadly, nobody seems to actually have an online version of the interview. I happened to buy Sports Graphic Number 640 last week because it's the big "BOBBY MAGIC! LOTTE PWN3D HANSHIN!" issue, and since I stayed up for most of the playoffs and Japan Series, I wanted the articles about it. Plus, it has the coolest picture ever, of Imae fielding Yano's popped-up bunt for a double play in the ninth inning of Game 4. That was just plain spectacular.

Now, see, all Japanese baseball magazines pretty much will always have Ichiro and Matsui sections. Most of the time I already know the information within, so I rarely bother reading them. So it's no surprise that I didn't even notice the "Ichiro: My Aim" article except that it had a funny picture with Ichiro in front of Safeco Field with approximately a hundred Japanese schoolchildren. No, really.

Well, as it turns out, this is one of the articles where Ichiro vented his spleen. So as a service to mankind (or maybe that's Marinerkind) I scanned in the article so other people could read it. And here you go. Because it was 5 pages long, I also scanned in a bonus picture of poor Kenji Johjima grumpily slouching on his couch with his catcher's mitt and his crutches. (It's the start of an interview article with him as well.)

The files are still up, just not image linked directly here any more:

Go here for small and large versions of files

Go here for Tokyo Sam's translation

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fighting and Biting (short takes)

1) God knows why, but The Fighters are actually posting Iriki. [english] I suppose the pitching staff isn't screwed up enough already? The worst part is -- I think an MLB club would be nuts to actually put Iriki out there pitching, let alone pay the posting fee for him. He's like Masao Kida, only even more mediocre. 33 years old, spent most of 2003 and 2004 either on farm teams or out injured with hamstring problems. I'll be astounded if anyone actually bids for him, but he has stated that he would "regret not attempting to go to MLB". Sometimes I wonder whether "playing in AAA for a few years" really equates to "living out my dream to play in the MLB" for these guys?

(I did learn from the article that Tetsu Yofu, formerly of the then-Daiei Hawks, pitched a no-hitter at AAA Charlotte in 2004, though. That is pretty cool.)

EDIT> It is unclear whether Iriki is actually being posted or being released -- I'm under the impression that the media is still calling it "posting" because he had to go to the team to get them to grant him permission to come over here, but I don't think they're taking bids -- he can just negotiate with whoever he wants.

2) I went to try out Tat's Deli today, which is down on Occidental street, pretty much exactly halfway between where I work and Safeco Field. They supposedly have special hours and deals for Seahawks and Mariners game days. A review said something like "So authentic that Philly ex-pats weep at the first bite."

Let me tell you something. Philly ex-pats weep at the first bite because they can't believe they just spent 14 bucks for this pile of crap. The sandwich I got today would cost me about $5-6 tops in Philly, plus the bread would be real, the cheese would be on the inside instead of the outside, the sandwich wouldn't fucking fall apart, and most of all, I could get birch beer with it.

A friend of mine from Philly says, "Oh, yeah. Their cheesesteaks suck. The hoagies are good, though."

3) Colletti introduced as new GM of Dodgers. As you can guess, I thought it'd be pretty cool if Kim Ng got the job, but, ah well.

4) (edited in later) Mike Cameron to the Padres for Xavier Nady. AWESOME! We'll get to see Cameron play a lot more that way. In an unrelated note, Denny's restaurants all over San Diego are serving a new breakfast special called "Moon Over Mike Cammy".

Random Ichiro Sightings

Ha, fooled you.

A friend of mine went down to California this past weekend. While he was there, he stopped by the Best Place On Earth, Costa Mesa branch. He decided to randomly buy me first two issues of ドカベン(プロ野球編) for whatever unknown reason, and for whatever unknown reason, I'm actually reading them. (I studied Japanese for several years in college, but I'm really not into anime or manga. I'm making an exception for this, because it's baseball!)

Anyway, "Dokaben (Pro Yakyu Series)" is apparently the continuation of the original Dokaben manga, which dealt with these crazy kids on the Meikun High School baseball team. Now they're all being drafted to pro teams, and boy are their adventures strange. Yamada, the "main character" of sorts, is drafted to Seibu; the large and bizarre Iwaki plays for the Hawks; the adorable Satonaka pitches for Lotte, and the short roly-poly Tonoma plays for the Orix Blue Wave.

They actually use a lot of real baseball players in the manga, so what do I come across but a Lotte-Orix game... Tonoma's up to bat, and this is 1995, so Irabu is pitching... and Ichiro is standing on first. It's so CUTE!

You see, that was my random Ichiro sighting for the day!

Man, this series is weird. I really love a lot of the way they've drawn a lot of the players though. It appears that the series actually goes on for 50-something issues over a span of ten years, so I'm actually somewhat curious now about what the later issues look like with the newer teams and players. Maybe I'll hunt them down when I have time in a few weeks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Book Review: The Annotated Casey at the Bat, by Martin Gardner

The Annotated Casey at the Bat, by Martin Gardner

The other day I hung out at the Elliott Bay Book Company with fellow blog citizen Ryan H, and he was very kind and let me geek out about baseball with him for several hours. (I hate the offseason. Everybody just wants to talk about that sport with the prolate spheroid and the Jacobsenesque guys slamdancing.) I wasn't intending to buy any books, but I found this book full of Casey at the Bat parodies and tributes, and well, I've kind of had that poem going through my head since a few weeks ago. So, I couldn't resist.

If you are a fan of Casey at all, you need this book. No, really, you do. I had no idea there were so many other parodies and versions and takes on Casey. It's all levels of awesome.

The book delves into the history of the poem itself and the various versions, as well as the actual characters surrounding Our Hero, including lineups for the Mudville Nine, assorted players for Centerville, Casey's family, the pitcher (James Riley "Fireball" Snedeker. I never even knew he had a name!) who fanned Casey, etc.

First, there are several versions by Thayer himself. Then there are several tributes by the legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, which range from as simple as Casey actually hitting the ball, to a sad ballad about the desertion of Mudville, to a brilliant little ditty depicting Casey as "The Man Who Played With Anson on the Old Chicago Team", but culminating in the ultimate poetic snarkiness, as he writes a poem as a response to a letter he received saying "I enjoyed your Casey poem, but what is the original about?" called "He Never Heard of Casey!" An excerpt:

Ten million never heard of Keats, or Shelley, Burns, or Poe;
But they know "the air was shattered by the force of Casey's blow";
They never heard of Shakespeare, nor of Dickens, like as not,
But they know the somber drama from old Mudville's haunted lot.

He never heard of Casey! Am I dreaming? Is it true?
Is fame but wind-blown ashes when the summer day is through?
Does greatness fade so quickly and is grandeur doomed to die
That bloomed in early morning, ere the dusk rides down the sky?

Granny Rice's stuff is fabulous, but there's even more that follows. We have more "revenge of Casey" style poems where he actually gets the hit at the end. In some of these, Casey is in his forties, or even in his sixties. We have a few poems that try to pinpoint the blame for Casey's bad fortune -- a cross-eyed bat boy, a spitballing pitcher, what have you. We also have the rest of Casey's family come to the plate -- poems about his son, his daughter, his sister, even his wife's antics in the batter's box grace the pages of this tome. A couple of times, we actually have Casey as a pitcher, oftentimes getting his revenge on the Centerville team.

There's even, of course, the Mad Magazine "Get a teenager to translate it for you" version that was published in 1960. You don't even really need the explanatory paragraph to figure that out, honestly:

Ten thousand peepers piped him as he rubbed fuzz on his palms;
Five thousand choppers grooved it when he smeared some on his arms.
Then while the shook-up pitcher twirled the ball snagged in his clutch,
A hip look lit up Casey. Man, this cat was just too much!

And now the crazy mixed-up ball went flying out through space.
But Casey, he just eyed it with a cool look on his face.
Right at that charged-up sideman, the old ball really sailed--
"That's so far out," sang Casey. "Like, Strike One!" the umpire wailed.

The British writer J.A. Lindon contributes two pure gems as well - the first is Casey in outer space, aka Casey At The Cap, and the other is, of course, the Village Cricket Casey. They are both great, though I think the kicker is Lindon's excellent palindrome:

Won't I help? Miss it in mad stab? Yes, a Casey bats. Damn! It is simple -- hit now.

Anyway, there is a football version as well (boo!) called "O'Toole's Touchdown" which is immediately recognizeable as well ("And so when Cohen lost five yards, and Zipkin did the same / A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.")

But I must tell you that none of these are even remotely comparible to the very last entry in this anthology, which is "Ahab At The Helm" by none other than Ray Bradbury. I'm not sure it gets much better than this:

It looked extremely rocky for the Melville nine that day,
The score stood at two lowerings, with one lowering yet to play,
And when Fedallah died and rose, and others did the same
A pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of this Game.

A straggling few downed-oars to go, leaving behind the rest,
With that hope that springs eternal from the blind dark human breast.
They prayed that Captain Ahab's rage would thrust, strike, overwhelm!
They'd wager "Death to Moby!" with old Ahab at the helm.

I think you've gotten the idea by now -- and in theory, if you enjoyed the few snippets I've included here, you'll enjoy the rest of the poems. It's a truly wonderful collection of literary, mostly-baseball-related delight. Hell, even the Amazon review I see (another Casey parody) is funny.

As an aside, though -- this is NOT a bus book by any means. This book is best enjoyed at home where you can read all of the poems aloud and enjoy the meter and imagery -- also, it's rather embarrassing when you burst out laughing on the bus, really. I think it'd be a lot of fun for a couple of baseball fans to read together, or perhaps for a parent to read to a child.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Konami Cup Finals - A Tale of Two Watanabes

Well, as predicted, Shunsuke Watanabe started the KC final game for the Marines, and the Marines won 5-3, sweeping the series. If you haven't been keeping track, and you count this as part of the postseason, the Marines are 13-2 between the playoffs, the Japan Series, and the Konami Cup. (They'd be 13-0 if Kobayashi hadn't imploded in the ninth inning of the third game of the PL Second Stage and given up that 4-0 lead, too.)

This Watanabe strikes from below.

The Samsung Lions actually got a reasonably high number of hits off Watanabe, but he managed to get them out at the necessary times to keep them off the board for the most part. game summary / konami cup box score

The Marines came on the board in the first inning, when Franco hit a sac fly with the bases loaded, scoring Nishioka. The Lions tied it up in the top of the third, on an RBI single by Han-soo Kim. Then the Marines brought things up to 3-1 in their half of the third, Benny hitting a 2-RBI hit after Imae singled and Franco doubled.

Imae was taken out between the third and fourth innings (Westbay-san says that Imae's arm might be broken after he was hit by a pitch in the first inning?) and Masato Watanabe came in to take his place at third, setting the stage for his fourth-inning 2-run homer. "The other" Watanabe, as it were, struck from above. It's sort of funny since I'm not sure Masato Watanabe has hit a home run in an actual NPB game since 2003. Think of him sort of like Scott Podsednik, if you will.

At this point it was 5-1 Marines, and there it stayed for the next few innings as both the Lions relievers and the Marines relievers held their respective grounds. Fujita, Yabuta, and Kobayashi pitched the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings for the Marines.

Kobayashi seemed in danger of repeating his implosion from the PL playoffs and the Japan Series for a bit there. He struck out Jin, but then Morozumi (subbed in for Benny) made a throwing error fielding Sok-min Park's hit to left, and Han-yi Park took advantage of it with an RBI single, scoring Sok-min Park and bringing it to 5-2. Kang got an infield single, and Yang struck out. Han-soo Kim hit another RBI single, scoring Han-yi Park and bringing the score to 5-3. Fortunately, Kobayashi managed to strike out Dai Kim, and that was it for the game.

It sounds like it was overall a pretty cool series of games, even if it was a bit of a landslide in the Marines' favor. I wouldn't expect it to be so easy for the Japanese teams in the future necessarily, and I do hope they continue this in future years!

Also, if Imae really is injured badly, this is also a damn good case for why you hold these events in the fall, after the season, not in the spring before the season.

The most interesting thought I have after this is: if the NPB is considered "AAAA" ball compared to MLB, does that mean the rest of Asia is considered "AAA" to their "AAAA"? Is the skill differential between NPB and KBO/CPBL comparable to the differential between MLB/NPB? If it's transitive, does that mean an average MLB team would just sweep the floor with a Korean or Taiwanese team?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

More Konami Cup Babbling

While I was looking at the aftermath of the trampling that is the Chiba Lotte Marines taking over the rest of Asia, I found a part of their website I had never actually read before (don't ask why I've never before looked at the "English" section -- guess I figured there wasn't much there). Anyway, they've been having some of their gaijin players write a Diary From Abroad, and these entries are actually pretty damn awesome. Val Pascucci, Dan Serafini, Benny Agbayani, Matt Franco, and even Seung-Yeop Lee contribute to it. Very cool and worth a read in my opinion. (I didn't know Matt Franco was Kurt Russell's nephew, after all, or that Ralph Branca is Bobby Valentine's father-in-law...)

Anyway, the Konami Cup has pretty much been fairly one-sided:

Day 1, 11/10: CPBL 6, CBA 0 / NPB 6, KBO 3

Day 2, 11/11: KBO 8, CBA 3 / NPB 12*, CBPL 1

Day 3, 11/12: NPB 3, CBA 1 / KBO 4, CPBL 3

* game called after 7 innings

After the first two games, the Marines were guaranteed to advance to the finals no matter what, and it came down to the Lions/Bulls game to see who their finals opponent is. The result? Marines replay the Lions at 7pm Japan time tonight.

Hiroyuki Kobayashi won the first game for the Marines. Shimizu pitched the second game for the Marines and won a "complete game" of 7 innings -- the game was called due to the mercy rule. Benny hit homers to both fields, the second one a 3-run homer bringing the score to that mercy 12-1. They started Kuroki in the third game -- actually, the lineup in general was a little weak but I guess Bobby figured they didn't even have to win this game. Komiyama ended up pitching the 4th through 8th innings and got the win. Tomorrow, I bet they start Watanabe for the "real" championship game...

Bobby Valentine and Jim Lefebvre sharing some "Bobby Magic"

There are some great pictures up of the games here. In particular I really like that Jim-and-Bobby picture, and also this one of Komiyama with his sunglasses, this one of Shimizu since it reminds me of Shiggy's windup, this awesome one of Air Nishioka!, and some of the team high-fives so you can really see the uniforms: China, Taipei, and Korea.

I know people are saying the Konami Cup is sort of a joke, given what an all-around strong team the Marines are, but it's still really cool that they're doing it, I think. Sort of like a prequel to the baseball world cup and all.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday Foto

I was trying to come up with something interesting to write today, but all I really had to comment on was that Chris Carpenter is cuter than Roger Clemens, but Bartolo Colon is not cuter than Johan Santana.

Anyway, I'm going through some pictures to put together some pages about various baseball trips, and I found this one I took a while back. Do you recognize this outfield wall (without Googling)?

Man, they sure don't make 'em like they used to.

You know, I've got a lot of random pictures I've taken of baseball stuff that might be fun to do a regular Friday Foto thing with during the offseason, come to think of it. I used a lot of my better pictures during the year for game reports, but there were plenty that just sort of never fit in to anything else. Maybe I'll try this for a few weeks.

Also, yes, it's Forbes Field. Currently, the right center outfield wall still stands on the University of Pittsburgh campus, across the bridge from my alma mater. Home plate is actually inside one of the buildings, and there are plaques in the street and sidewalk still showing where the outfield wall was and where Mazeroski hit his series-wining home run in 1960. Where the infield was and the left-center area is taken over by buildings and parking lots, but that bit of the outfield is still grassy and nice. It's sort of fun on a rare sunny Pittsburgh day to just go sit by the outfield wall and try to imagine Roberto Clemente standing there and such.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Konami Cup!

Once more, I forgot that it's always a day later in Japan than I think it is. The Konami Cup started today in Japan. It's an "Asia Series" between the championship baseball teams from Japan (NPB), South Korea (KBO), China (CBA), and Taiwan (CPBL). So far, the CPBL Sinon Bulls shut out Jim Lefebvre's CBA China All-Stars 6-0, and right now the KBO Samsung Lions are in the second inning of their game against the NPB Chiba Lotte Marines, and the Marines are currently leading 3-0. (Yahoo NPB's got it on "live" but I don't feel like sitting up and frantically reloading. "The Other" Kobayashi started for the Marines today. Morning edit: Marines won the game 6-2. Yay!)

There's a schedule of all the games here. It's a round-robin event hosted at the Tokyo Dome, two games a day for three days, and the top winners play each other on the fourth day for the ultimate championship. Should be pretty interesting to see who comes out on top, since the Lotte Marines swept the Hanshin Tigers in the Nippon Series, the Sinon Bulls swept the Macoto Cobras in the CPBL championships, and the Samsung Lions swept the Doosan Bears in the KBO. Lots of talented players there... all in the wrong damn timezone, so I'm off to sleep.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Stephen "Wrath of" Kaaaahhhhn

Today, I took a already mistaken topic on Lookout Landing and derailed it further. How much worse could a bad joke get? The answer: much, much worse.

Suggestions for this list are welcome. So are comments of "You've totally lost it, Deanna."

Top Ten Bad "Stephen Kahn" Jokes I'm Saving For Our Future Closer

10. Kahn-dominium -- like most prospects, buy now, and resell later at a higher value

9. Star Kahn 2 (aka "The Ur-Kahn Master") -- galactic domination, as long as your galaxy is the AL West

8. Kahn-ji, or perhaps Kata-Kahn-a, which is useful for communicating with Japanese players.

7. Gen Kahn, for when you really want to get your game on

6. Kahn Air

5. /etc/Kahn.daily, because he'll be ready to go every day

4. Istanbul, not Kahn-stantinople -- that's nobody's business but the Turks.

3. Kahn-or McLeod. There can be only won!

2. Sean Kahn-ery -- I'll take "Potent Prospects" for 200, Alex

1. "WRATH OF KAHN" displayed on big board when he comes out, opposing teams yell "KAAAAAAAAHN!" as he foils them in the 9th.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

2005 Japan Baseball Awards

GG's were announced today, so I figured I might as well compile all the awards here in English.

Pacific League Awards
Central League Awards

Golden Gloves

Japanese Golden Gloves Awarded

This article made me laugh out loud -- if you can't read Japanese, the headline says "Lotte's strong infield monopolizes; Yomiuri Giants get zero"

(there is an article on Japanball about it here but it doesn't have the lists per se, nor does it even mention everyone)

Central League Pacific League
(1) Hiroki Kuroda (HC) P (6) Daisuke Matsuzaka (SL)
(2) Akihiro Yano (HT) C (7) Kenji Johjima (FSH)
(1) Andy Sheets (HT) 1B (2) Kazuya Fukuura (CLM)
(2) Masahiro Araki (CD) 2B (1) Tsuyoshi Nishioka (CLM)
(5) Akinori Iwamura (YS) 3B (1) Toshiaki Imae (CLM)
(2) Hirokazu Ibata (CD) SS (4) Makoto Kosaka (CLM)
(3) Kosuke Fukudome (CD) OF (9) Tsuyoshi Shinjo (NHF)
(4) Norihiro Akahoshi (HT) OF (1) Saburo Ohmura (CLM)
(1) Tatsuhiko Kinjou (YBS) OF (3) Naoyuki Ohmura (FSH)

The number in parentheses is the total number of times the player has won a golden glove; the teams are the letters in parens and I've put the positions in the middle, just as in the article. I didn't bother copying over the number of votes they got.

I think the most bizarre part here is that they list Saburo as "Saburo" in katakana, but they actually give Shinjo's full name in kanji. Infact, it's been so long since I actually saw his name in kanji that I did a double-take like "An outfielder on the Fighters... Shin-something... OH, GEEZ."

Anyway, the Japanese media is even stupider and more biased towards "popular players" than the American media in voting for these, but I'm relatively happy with their choices. Just a shame Imae had to take precedence over Ogasawara at third, really.

Best Nine

The really bizarre thing here is that Nishioka made the Best Nine as a shortstop but got a golden glove as a second baseman. Huh?

Central League Pacific League
(1) Hiroki Kuroda (HC) P (1) Toshiya Sugiuchi (FSH)
(2) Akihiro Yano (HT) C (6) Kenji Johjima (FSH)
(1) Takahiro Arai (HC) 1B (1) Julio Zuleta (FSH)
(2) Masahiro Araki (CD) 2B (1) Yuuichi Hori (CLM)
(*) Makoto Imaoka (HT) 3B (1) Toshiaki Imae (CLM)
(3) Hirokazu Ibata (CD) SS (1) Tsuyoshi Nishioka (CLM)
(5) Tomoaki Kanemoto (HT) OF (*) Kazuhiro Wada (SL)
(1) Norichika Aoki (YS) OF (1) Katsuhiko Miyaji (FSH)
(2) Norihiro Akahoshi (HT) OF (1) Matt Franco (CLM)
DH (*) Nobuhiko Matsunaka (FSH)

* -- Imaoka won twice as a second baseman but this is his first at 3B, Wada won as a DH once but this is his third consecutive in the outfield, and Matsunaka won three times as a 1B but this is his first as a DH.

Central League and Pacific League MVP

Tomoaki Kanemoto named CL MVP, Toshiya Sugiuchi named PL MVP

(not directly translated -- it says something more like "old dude Kanemoto wins CL MVP, and PL is Sugiuchi". Maybe I should start calling the 37-year-old Kanemoto "Old Man Tiger" instead of Shimoyanagi)

Despite how much Kanemoto sucked it up in the Japan Series -- and now that it's over, I can honestly feel sorry for him -- he did put together a pretty solid year which pretty much led the Tigers to the pennant, batting .327/.429/.615 with 40 HR and 125 RBI.

Sugiuchi's a pretty good choice for PL MVP -- I was pretty sure it'd go to either him or to Nobuhiko Matsunaka and his 46 homers, and it was a pretty close race between the two of them. I'll talk more about him in a second, anyway.

Sawamura Award

The Sawamura Award is the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young award, named for Eiji Sawamura, a legendary Japanese pitcher who died in World War II. They award it to the best starting pitcher in the NPB every year.

This year it was given unanimously to aforementioned PL MVP Toshiya Sugiuchi, who was 18-4 with a 2.11 ERA with 218 strikeouts. He led the Pacific League in wins (Nishiguchi was next with 17), ERA (Shunsuke Watanabe was next with 2.17), and was second in strikeouts (to Daisuke Matsuzaka's 226).

All in all there was some very strong pitching in the PL this year, really -- 6 starters logged ERAs under 3, whereas only one starter in the CL, Yokohama's Miura, logged an ERA under 3. Why is this weird? The Pacific League uses a DH, and the Central League does not. You would expect the lower ERAs to be in the CL, where they get a couple of free outs every now and then, not the PL -- as was the case in MLB this year, where of the 9 starters to log ERAs below 3, 2 were in the DH-using AL, and 7 were in the NL.

Shoriki Award

Listed under Special Awards is the Masutaro Shoriki award, which is given to people who make the largest contributions to Japanese baseball. Unsurprisingly, Bobby Valentine won it this year.

Rookie of the Year

The Central League ROY award went to Yakult Swallows leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki, who became the second player in Japanese baseball history to record 200 hits in a season (Ichiro was the first, of course), and Marines right-hander Yasutomu Kubo, who was 10-3 with a 3.40 ERA, with 26 walks and 84 strikeouts in 121 innings pitched. Strangely, there weren't even any people remotely close for second place in either voting.

Book Review: Ninety Feet From Fame, by Mike Robbins

Ninety Feet from Fame, by Mike Robbins

You know, there are some books where I felt like I got incredible deals for the amount I paid for the amount of book quality. My copy of The Glory of Their Times cost me $4.98; The Donald Honig Reader cost $6.50. Moneyball rang in at a whopping $7.50. I think Ball Four ran me $6 or so. But these are big, well-known canonical baseball books, and you don't need me to tell you how good they are.

I spent $15 on my copy of "Ninety Feet From Fame", and it was worth every penny, and then some.

Even if you've read a bazillion books about baseball, and think you've heard every story there is, I can almost guarantee you that most of the stories in this book are ones you've never heard before. Most of the players are probably players you've never heard of. Many of them never even made it to the majors.

But they're all true. The wackiest part of reading this book was how I'd be on the bus reading, and as soon as I got to the computer at work or at home, I'd have to go to baseball-reference and look up the guys in there. Sometimes there'd be cases where it was even a player I must have seen before, and never noticed. Take the 1919 White Sox -- Most people are familiar with the eight "Black Sox" men, and the "Clean Sox" such as Schalk, the Collinses, Dickie Kerr, etc. But what about guys like Frank Shellenback? To my eyes, he was just another line, another stat, a young pitcher whose career ended quickly. But his story is great -- he was a spitball specialist who came up on the White Sox in 1918. They were a really good team, so there wasn't room for a young kid still figuring out his stuff. So he ended up back in the minors by the middle of the 1919 season. Getting sent down was great timing for him, as there was no danger of him being associated with the 1919 World Series. Unfortunately, the timing also couldn't have possibly been worse -- the spitball was outlawed in 1920, and as Frank was not a major leaguer at the time, he didn't make it onto the grandfather clause list allowing certain major leaguers whose careers depended on it to keep throwing it. So, Frank's major league career was over at the age of 20. But he could throw the spitter in the minor leagues still, and went on to win over 300 games in the minors, and later became a major league coach and scout.

This book is full of great stories about guys like Hal Smith, hitting the aforementioned forgotten home run in the 1960 World Series behind Bill Mazeroski; like Jim Davenport walking to drive in the winning run in the 1962 NL Dodgers-Giants playoffs; Harry Steinfeldt, the unpoetic third baseman of the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance infield; Bill Voiselle (13-13, 3.63) and Vern Bickford (11-5, 3.25), the "two days of rain" on the 1948 Boston Braves rotation; Charlie Silvera, a career benchwarmer with 6 World Series rings as Yogi Berra's backup catcher, who had a career-ending broken leg when he finally got a real shot at a career; and an entire chapter about unluckily-named players, like 50's all-star Frank Thomas, not to be confused with our generation's Frank Thomas; Bill Lee (not the other all-star Bill Lee); Frank Baker with one career homer, not to be confused with another Frank Baker who was apparently a great prospect but failed to live up to his given name... because neither could live up to the nickname given to the original Frank "Home Run" Baker, of course. Or how about the other major league pitcher named Bob Gibson?

There's even a bunch of times where the story is basically along the lines of "You've heard of this guy for one particular event, sure, but do you know anything else about him?" Fred Merkle was actually one of the most intelligent players of his day but people only remember him for his "Boner" play in a 1908 game; Wally Pipp had a long and productive career and was a hard worker after his baseball playing ended, but people remember him only for taking a day off in 1925 which led to some rookie kid taking his spot at first base for the next 2130 games or so.

And of course, there's an entire chapter titled "Welcome to the Browns. Your identity is safe with us." about the hapless St. Louis Browns, and about their players who would undoubtedly be famous if they had played, well, anywhere else.

The best part about this book is the humorous way in which the stories are related. I laughed aloud on the bus many times while reading this. There's just jokes inserted in random places in the book which almost seem more appropriate for a satirical blog post than for a history book. Like, for example, who invented the curveball? Cooperstown says Candy Cummings, based on an article he penned in 1908. Bobby Mathews, a pitcher in the 1870's and 80's, the "original crafty junkballer", is just as likely a candidate and "he might have well responded [to the article] with a counter-claim, except he'd made the regrettable blunder of dying in 1898." And Mathews also had another missed shot at fame -- he won 131 games in the National Association, before these piddly major league things existed, and 166 games in the National League. If you combine those, that's 297, which is painfully close to the 300 mark. Quoth the book on this: "So perhaps it's for the best that National Association stats don't count. It would be a shame to think that three wins cost Mathews his shot at fame. On the other team, maybe some major league team would let him stage a comeback to get those last few victories. True, Mathews has been dead more than a century, but he was a crafty pitcher. He'd figure something out."

Honestly, I learned a lot from this book. I really enjoyed reading it -- it was full of interesting stories from every wake of baseball possible. Minor leagues, major leagues, Negro leagues, the AAGPBL women's league, players from Japan, Latin America, what have you, there's interesting stories to be found in every nook and cranny of baseball history. I can't even imagine where the author dug some of this stuff up. In some cases, I could imagine just staring at baseball-reference records going "Weird, I've never heard of this guy - what's his story?", like, say, Owen Wilson, who was the first man to get tagged out stealing third base to end a crucial World Series game -- I wouldn't have known that, but I probably saw his name at some point when looking up single-season records last year, given that the guy hit an absurd 36 triples in 1912, which has been the record since. Quoth the book: "Mr. Wilson was a man with an obvious fondness for reaching third base."

I give this book 10 stars out of 10. No, really, I do. It scores high on every axis I can think of: compelling, amusing, interesting, unique, entertaining, educating, etc -- and most of all, it's an excellent bus book, because all of the stories are one or two pages long at most. If you're looking for a book to buy for a baseball nerd for the winter gift-giving holidays, or if you're looking for an awesome book to read on the bus, or even just trying to learn more baseball trivia to win pub quizzes and impress your friends, it's totally worth buying and reading.

Afterwards, you might or might not want to check out They Tasted Glory, by Linkugel and Pappas, but don't buy it -- take it out from the library. It's also about "forgotten greats who will never be in the Hall of Fame", although it's written long enough ago that it includes Kirby Puckett in that list. It's mostly guys who had major league careers ended by tragic injuries. Also, it's just a chapter on each player -- it features Joe Wood, Pistol Pete Reiser, Herb Score, Hal Trosky, Tony Oliva, Thurman Munson, Ewell Blackwell, Dave Ferriss, Vean Gregg, Steve Busby, J. R. Richard, Tony Conigliaro, Paul Dean, Johnny Beazley, Mark Fidrych, and Lyman Bostock. I read this book about 3-4 months ago, so a lot of the stories were fresh in my head -- and while reading Ninety Feet From Fame, occasionally someone'd pop up and I'd be like "I've heard of this guy! But where?" and I realized they were in here. I'd give this book about 4 stars out of 10 -- like the Cy Young book I read a few weeks back, the content was fascinating and I learned a lot, but the writing style was sort of dry and not really entertaining. It did make a decent bus book. If I'd thumbed through it on the library shelf *after* finishing Ninety Feet From Fame, I'm not sure whether I would have bothered reading it.

Another book in this line that I've read, many more months ago, was Baseball's Forgotten Heroes by Tony Salin, which had its most interesting story in the first chapter: Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder for the 1945 St. Louis Browns. After that, it covers Chuck Connors, Bill Lange, Dave Roberts (the other one), Larry Jansen, Joe "Unser Choe" Hauser, Paul Hines, Tony Freitas, Joe Bauman, Bruno Haas, Oscar Eckhardt, Wally Hebert, Billy Jurges, Art Pennington, Frenchy Bordagaray. Unlike the other books, this one is sometimes told from the third-person historian perspective, but several of the chapters are oral history Glory-of-Their-Times style in the voice of the players. I'd give this book 7 stars out of 10, because I enjoy the oral history aspect of it, and the other players in it are interesting as well; the writing style is slightly more compelling. I would have probably still read this regardless of when I discovered it, because most of the stories are more unique.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Vote for Pedro.... Cerrano, that is

They announced the Rookie of the Year award winners this morning.

As predicted by just about everyone except maybe my building manager's mom, Huston Street gets the American League ROY, and rightly so. He's a great pitcher, a nice guy, and did an awesome job as closer. I'm pretty happy about this choice; the only sad part is how our Felix sort of got screwed over in terms of ROY honors since he was called up halfway and logged enough innings to be ineligible next year, but didn't really log enough to warrant a single vote this year.

The NL choice was a lot closer, as there were several outstanding rookies this year. Most people thought it'd come down to Ryan Howard, Willy Taveras, and Jeff Francoeur, and they were right. And, amazingly, Ryan Howard won it. (Zach Duke got a few stray votes, but was screwed over similarly to Felix)

Now, most of you know that I call Ryan Howard "Pedro Cerrano" because of his frustrating inability to hit lefties (he was .148/.175/.246 against lefties in 61 at-bats, as opposed to being .323/.396/.645 against righties in 251 at-bats). There was nothing nearly as anticlimactic as the one game I saw in Citizens Bank this year, September 6th: the score was 4-1 Astros in the bottom of the 7th, the bases were loaded, there was finally a righty pitcher on the mound instead of Andy Pettitte, and it was the pitcher's turn to bat for the Phillies. So Charlie Manuel put in Ryan Howard to hit. Finally, there was real excitement in the stadium, as with one swing of the bat he could swing the score to 5-4 Phillies - the music got loud, the crowd got loud... and Phil Garner swapped out righty Qualls for lefty Gallo, and "gallows" is about what it was for Howard, as he struck out.

That day, I decided Ryan Howard probly shouldn't be ROY, especially since it was also the day that Willy Taveras practically singlehandedly won the game for the Astros in the first inning by throwing off Brett Myers after an unfortunate David Bell error. It must be said that Ryan Howard gets incredible style points for managing to step in and fill Big Jim's big shoes, but his weakness against lefties also makes him a liability.

Two short weeks later, the Phillies somehow still found themselves in the Wild Card race, two games behind with 10 games to go, and were playing the team with the other likely NL ROY. The Braves had tied the game at 6-6 in the 7th inning, and it went into extra innings. The Phils managed to load the bases in the top of the 10th, and Ryan Howard was at-bat, having come in to pinch-hit in the 8th. The Braves did the smart thing of switching to a lefty pitcher, but Charlie decided to let Ryan stay in anyway. And Ryan Howard picked this moment to get his first ever major league home run off a lefty -- by hitting a grand slam over the left-field wall.

Those are the moments that make baseball so great -- and also the moments that make a rookie into a Rookie of the Year. Congrats, Cerrano. Now next year, you learn to hit the curveball, okay?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Baseball is puzzling

So, this weekend is Microsoft Puzzle Hunt, which means I'll pretty much be out of commission for the entire weekend. No, I don't work at Microsoft, but a few years ago I was recruited into a Hunt team, and I'm still in it. It really is a super-fun event, and I've been looking forward to it for the last few weeks. In essence, we go on a 36-hour-long scavenger hunt, but instead of finding objects, we have to solve puzzles, which give us clues to solve other puzzles, which eventually all lead to one overarching solution. It's very cool.

Anyway, another puzzle event that's been going on online is a Puzzle Boat. A bunch of my other friends got me to join their team for this, and of course, the first round has a baseball logic puzzle in it, so everyone goes "Crap, we better have Deanna solve this one," and rightly so.

The funny part is, I solved the baseball logic grid part of it, but then once I'd worked it out (you have to figure out a week's worth of baseball game scores in a logic riddle grid sort of game), I couldn't figure out what to do with it *next*, since I knew the solution was going to be a word or a phrase. One of the people on our team who knows nothing about baseball took my scoreboard and figured out the next part. I love teamwork sometimes.

Anyway, since this is a puzzle from the first round, and you could get access to it just by registering a team, which is trivial, I don't feel too bad linking to it; it's not like I'm spoiling a puzzle from a later round.

Charlie Hustle's Betting Streak

If you like puzzles, and you like baseball, you'll really enjoy this one. See if you can solve it! (I'm happy to confirm the answer in email if anyone actually does; take your time, don't feel obligated to solve it quickly.) I may post a book review later tonight, but other than that, see you all in the blogosphere on Monday.

Brian Giles is cursed in Safeco

I swear I never noticed this before, but Brian Giles, a possible Mariners FA acquisition, hasn't exactly had the best luck when hitting in Safeco Field...

His 2002-2005 stats hitting in Safeco: (gotten from 2005 here and 2002-2004 here, off ESPN. If someone knows a place I can get his career stadium splits, that'd be great, though I don't think the Pirates ever played at Safeco, at least not with Giles on the team, so it'd all be SD-and-later stuff. Anyway:

31 AB, 4 H, 2 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 6 BB, 8 K... for a wallopping .129/.270/.193 line. That's a .463 OPS. For a guy usually posting an OPS above 1.000 on the road.

That's a little scary.

I mean, I lived in Pittsburgh for most of his glory years there, and I think the guy's great (though I always liked Jason Kendall better, and now I like Jason Bay better), but doesn't this frighten anyone, small sample size or not? By all accounts, he's the sort of batter that should actually do well in Safeco Field. I guess it could be just due to the interleague pitching familiarity and all, but it's not like we've had the best pitching, either :)

I hope it's completely irrelevant, but it was jarring to see those numbers. Maybe it was just a few unlucky games...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

So, I was reading over the real Golden Gloves, and the Hardball Times' Golden Gloves, and Tangotiger's Scouting Report, and thinking about why some players appear to be so good or bad in the field, despite how good or bad they actually are.

Take the Mariners' outfield -- people think that Jeremy Reed is pretty awesome because he makes all these great diving catches, leaping, sliding, covering more distance than seems possible at first, turning doubles into outs. Now, Jeremy Reed actually *is* a damn good outfielder, regardless of dramatics. But why would anyone criticize Ichiro for not making dives and leaps and slides to get to the ball?

Some people realize that it's because Ichiro doesn't ever need to dive to get to a ball. It's really rare that a ball lands in the outfield that Ichiro could have gotten to by diving that he couldn't have gotten to running.

How does this happen? It happens because some outfielders have better instincts than others; some react immediately at the crack at the bat. Ichiro is one of those guys.

However, a casual fan often won't notice this, and a TV-watching fan definitely won't notice this.

Why don't they notice?

Simple. It's because we are all subconsciously trained to keep our eyes on the ball.

For example, suppose a fly ball is hit to right-center. What do we as fans actually perceive? We see the pitcher holding the ball, getting the signal from his catcher. We see him nod, wind up, and throw the ball. We see the batter react and swing and hit the ball. Then, we watch the ball fly up into the air, and follow its arc; we're probably vaguely aware of where it is, whether it's foul or fair. But it's not until this point -- when the ball has almost come back down to earth -- that we actually see where Ichiro, or Jeremy Reed, is positioned. And if the ball is really closer to right, chances are Ichiro is already under it, glove up in the air, left hand bracing the glove from behind.

We rarely perceive the actual moment where the outfielder takes off to get the ball, though.

Even on TV, when they'll replay a good catch ninety million times -- like a Jeremy Reed sliding catch, they'll show it from a few angles -- first the ball flying out there, then you'll see Reed running, then you'll see him sliding, then you'll see the actual catch, with the ball landing in his glove. You'll probably see the ball land in his glove from four different angles at four different speeds. But you won't see his launch moment, the nanosecond of reaction when the bat strikes the ball.

It's a little different for infielders, I think. The amount of time between a ball hit from home plate and between Yuniesky Betancourt adroitly running in, scooping it up, and firing it to first, is slightly less. The TV cameras will definitely have that play from start to finish, including the takeoff. Even if you're keeping your eye on the ball, the infield isn't so far out of your peripheral vision to prevent you from seeing the movement of the infielders, at least the ones in the path of the ball. I know that in the postseason coverage, even on TV, I could see Joe Crede getting a good jump on knocking down almost anything hit near third base, due to the angles.

Anyway, I have no idea whether this theory is crazy, but I think next year I'm going to force myself to think about who and where I'm watching, and see what the different players are doing. I'm going to try to appreciate the field movements as, say, Jose Lopez moves into short right field to back up Richie Sexson fielding a grounder out past first base, and as Jamie Moyer runs in to cover first, rather than just being shocked and delighted as they pull off a rare 3-4-1 non-double-play, and all I've seen is the path of the ball.

Damnit, I hate when I come up with ideas like this 5 months before the 2006 season starts!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What I'm reading today

Well, in terms of links. In terms of books, I'm reading a really amazingly good potpourri-type baseball book which I'll review after I finish it in a day or two.

Yippee! The Free Agent Tracker is up! I hate the offseason, but for some reason I bookmark this thing every year and check it in the morning like email.

The GM Musical Chairs game

More and more articles about Theo:
- Jason Varitek's take - sort of a "I'm the captain of this ship, but who's my navigator?" article.
- Jon Papelbon's take - sort of a "damn, my big brother who finally got me a shot playing ball with the big kids down the street ran away!" article.
- Bill Simmons says "I saw this coming, and trust me... he'll be back."
- Theo says "Yeah, this kind of sucks. I'm sorry."

Pat Gillick takes over the reigns of GM in Philly. Crap. It's been discussed elsewhere, but... there are pros and cons to this.

- Con: Philly's farm system already sucks. Gillick is a man who doesn't seem to care for draft picks or building a farm system, and likes to sign or trade for proven veterans. Gillick may manage to push this team over to win a championship in the next year or two, but then there'll be nothing left when he steps down.
- Pro: Most of the core of the team already is full of "proven" guys if not exactly "veterans". Of course, most of that core (Lieby, Howard, Utley, J-Roll, J-Mike, Pattycakes, Myers, Wolf, Madson) are all home-grown.
- Con: Philly is a city that notoriously criticizes management for not making moves. "Stand Pat" Gillick is a man who notoriously doesn't make moves.
- Pro: A lot of contracts and money are already tied up into the 2006 season. Gillick can't do too much damage there. His biggest problem will probably be what to do about Jim Thome, and the likely outcome is finding which AL team will bid the highest for how much they're willing to cover of his salary.
- Con: Gillick was GM for the Toronto Blue Jays which beat the Phillies in our last trip to the World Series, in 1993. We have a long memory for a city of losers, and while you can't exactly blame Gillick for Joe Carter hitting that 3-run homer off Wild Thing... well, actually, I think Mitch Williams is finally allowed to walk the streets of Philly again (I even saw him at a game at Citizens Bank Park in September), so maybe all bets are off.

Back in Bavasi-Land

Unsurprisingly, Pokey and Shiggy are cut from the Mariners. I'm sad; I wish Shiggy had done better this year. I wonder what he'll do now? Even if he decided to retire, he has some pretty good peripheral values to a team on either side of the Pacific -- being an all-around nice guy that players like to work with, and being bilingual, and having knowledge of what it takes for players to succeed in either MLB or NPB. I think he'd make a great coach for an American manager in Japan, or a good overseas scout.

And the Winner Is...

So far in the awards department, we have the
Silver Sluggers
AL Golden Gloves
NL Golden Gloves

I'm really happy to see two of my All-Cute guys pick up double accolades, although I think Jason Varitek doesn't really deserve the golden glove. (He may have last year, though.) I commented in a thread on LL a while ago that I felt Mark Teixeira was a good candidate for MVP - just in terms of a guy who goes out there and really plays his butt off every day and contributes so much to his team, both in hitting and fielding.

The other funny thing is that I figured Jason Marquis was a shoe-in for the Silver Slugger this year all along. Back in May or June, he had a higher OPS than anyone on the Mariners staff. No joke. He didn't have his best stuff pitching this year, but being a pitcher that even went 3-for-9 as a pinch-hitter is a very useful thing to be in the National League. I wonder what the chances are they'd try to convert him to a fielder of some sort if his hitting keeps up and his pitching record falls further next year? It'd be interesting to see.

And after hearing the announcers talk about Morgan Ensberg's home runs *every single time he came up to bat in the postseason*, it's not surprising he got the Silver Slugger either!

Hmm, the NL Golden Gloves just came out too. Bobby Abreu? What? I love the guy, but I wouldn't call him a golden glove defender. I'm sort of amused that Omar Vizquel took it home again. Derrek Lee isn't too surprising -- I'm sure the voting on this and the Silver Slugger had to be pretty close between him and Pujols, but Lee is a pretty damn good all-around player. Jim Edmonds is the least surprising here -- he is a pretty stellar outfielder. And Andruw Jones -- a very likely NL MVP candidate, also not really surprising.

I mean, "funny ha-ha"

Jeff Sullivan cleverly compares Jeremy Reed to Ted "Theodore" Logan.

Lenny Dykstra, Stock Consultant? What?

Alright, I'm out. More links later, most likely.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Toastseason -- this one's for you, Theo

It's past the postseason, but it's not quite Hot Stove time. Is this the offseason? Or could it be more aptly be dubbed the "Toastseason"? We're done with the championship toasts, now it's time for various front office men to become toast? I mean, this week, what do we have to talk about? GMs getting fired, GMs getting hired, or in some cases, GMs getting tired?

Theo Epstein decides to step down as Red Sox GM (and several Red Sox players say WTF).

It's been discussed already several other places, and I don't really have anything useful to add to the discussion. I could note that Theo was hands down the best-looking GM in baseball, or recount that I almost choked to death on a pretzel laughing during the 2004 World Series postgame show. A reporter asked him something like "So, where do you see the future of the club, Theo?" and he's soaking in champagne from random Sox who keep wandering by, and he's like "Dude, I don't know. In my future I see a beer." and then he walked off.

You know, a couple of years ago, I'm not even sure I could have told you most managers of major league teams, let alone the general managers. In Philly, I think I sort of knew who Paul Owens was when I was a kid, but that was about it. (I think it actually said "Manager: Dallas Green / General Manager: Paul Owens" on my 1980 Phillies World Series flag thingy, though.) And suddenly, the GMs are in the spotlight. I don't know if it's the increased awareness of the front office which occurs through the blogosphere and the web in general, or maybe it's just the Moneyball effect, but it's a little strange to think about. Most fans don't really care much beyond "Is something cool happening on the field?", but the front office is the man behind the curtain, trying to pull the strings to ensure that cool things *are* happening on the field. How much do we really need or want to pay attention to the man behind the curtain to appreciate the game? It's unclear.